On October 19th 2021, Nepean High School students participated in a counter demonstration to a B.C. transphobe. Chris Elston, known as Billboard Chris on social media, was outside of Nepean, Broadview and Notre Dame. Chris has been travelling across Canada, spreading his opinions on the terrors of gender ideology and gender affirming treatments.
On Monday the 18th of October, there was outrage at Chris’s presence during the beginning and end of the school day. By Monday afternoon, there were large groups of people organizing counter demonstrations to block him from spreading his hateful messages to the young, impressionable minds attending the three schools. The largest of these demonstrations happened on the 19th. I spent three hours there, alongside many of my peers, as students showed outrage toward Billboard Chris spreading his transphobic opinions outside of our school.
A large group of students began gathering around 12pm on Tuesday with community members, in preparation for Chris's return. I talked to several students about why they are here and generally it was a united front: stopping these hateful messages from reaching the younger students at Broadview Elementary School. As an NHS student, Nerisse Kazmierski (grade 10) said, “Chris is trying to spread hateful messaging about trans healthcare for kids along this stretch of schools, one school including elementary kids who deserve to feel loved.” The students feel our community shouldn’t have this harmful information being shown in front of schools. Chris is protesting “gender ideology”, a concept that transphobes essentially made up to claim the LGBTQIA+ community is pushing transness onto others, which has been repeatedly rejected by the trans community.
Chris also has a big problem with gender education being taught in school, along with hormone therapy being available to young people. He fails to see just how essential these things are for trans youth. As another student I spoke to, Max Van Loon (grade 12), puts it: “Gender education and hormone blockers can actually save lives and do all the time and so we’re here to show other trans people it's okay to be trans and it’s okay to seek gender affirming therapy and to show that he's wrong.” When Chris goes around to schools with his ideas, he is putting trans youth in danger and thats why we as students, as members of the queer community, allies, and just members of the Nepean community took it upon ourselves to show Chris and his backwater ideas that they don’t belong in our learning environment.
We had great success keeping Billboard Chris’s message from reaching too many young minds during his demonstrations over the past few days. This was thanks to the work of students, community members, a large number of Ottawa's elected officials, and groups such as Rainbow Carleton, who quickly spread the word about counter demonstrations through social media. These people managed well on the morning of October 19th with around 100 people driving Chris’s transphobia away in about an hour. I had a chance to speak with Kitchissippi Ward councillor, Jeff Lieper, who attended the morning and afternoon counter demonstrations. We talked soon after Chris had left the afternoon demonstration and he told me, “I was stunned at the number of students who turned out and the passion that they brought to letting Chris and his supporters know they’re not welcome here.” Nepean students and our community members made it very clear to Chris that he can take his views and go. Chants like “trans rights are human rights” and “TERFs stay off our turf” were shouted loudly. When I spoke with Ottawa Centre MPP, Joel Harden about what he had to say about the community's response he said, “It was absolutely amazing and it gives us hope that when bigotry rears its face, community organizing will answer.” Nepean as a school and a community, we truly showed everyone that we will not stand for transphobia outside of our school and we sure showed Chris too.
After we as students showed Chris that we won’t stand for his transphobia, he took to Twitter to say that despite how it went for him “they’re just teens and they don’t understand what’s going on, so no hard feelings.” NHS student, Jamie Settle (grade 12) responded, “Don’t let this change what people think happened. This was organized, we knew exactly what we were doing and we’ll do it again if we have to.” The students of Nepean did not stand for this transphobia now and we will not in the future, despite a transphobe with signs outside our school.
Photographs by Serena Manouchehri.